Bob Gathany/Huntsville Times/AP
BRAINTREE -- The University of Alabama biology professor accused of opening fire and killing three colleagues at a faculty meeting Friday shot and killed her teenage brother more than two decades ago in Massachusetts, according to authorities.
But a local police chief and the district attorney’s office gave differing accounts today of the 1986 shooting, which occurred at the siblings’ home in Braintree, raising questions about the handling of that case.
According to the current Braintree police chief, Paul H. Frazier, Amy Bishop fatally shot her 18-year-old brother, Seth, on Dec. 6, 1986, but was set free the same day by Braintree Police under orders from then-Police Chief John Polio. In news accounts at the time, Polio called the death an accident that happened when Bishop was learning how to unload a shotgun.
Frazier challenged that account today, saying instead that Bishop shot her brother during an argument and fled on foot with the 12-gauge shotgun before being captured by police, who handcuffed her and took her to the station. The case file, including the report of the incident, disappeared shortly thereafter, he said.
‘‘I don’t want to use the word ‘coverup,’’’ Frazier said. ‘‘I don’t know what the thought process was of the police chief at the time.’’
But the Norfolk County district attorney’s office this evening released a six-page report from its archives that showed State Police investigators reviewed the case with Braintree Police and concluded that Seth Bishop’s death was an accident.
In the report, dated March 30, 1987, a Braintree Police captain said that Amy Bishop was released on the day of the shooting because she was too emotional to be questioned properly and because her mother said the shooting was accidental.
Local and State Police investigators returned to the home 11 days later to meet with Amy and her parents individually.
According to the investigation report, after Amy and her father had a disagreement, he left for a shopping trip and she went to her room. Amy decided to go to her parents’ room to teach herself to load the shotgun the family had acquired the previous year for protection after a break-in. She succeeded but could not remove the shells, and the gun fired in the bedroom. Amy then went downstairs to ask for help unloading it and inadvertently shot her brother while her mother watched, according to the report.
Their stories to the detectives contained some discrepancies. Amy’s mother said Amy asked her for help unloading the gun; she told Amy to be careful where she pointed it, and that Amy turned and accidentally shot her brother. Her mother said she screamed and called the police, as Amy ran out of the house.
Amy said she asked her brother, not her mother, for help unloading the gun, and that she was pointing it beside her leg for safety. She said her brother told her to point it up instead. As he walked across the kitchen floor, someone said something, and Amy turned and the gun went off.
Frazier said at a press conference this afternoon that he was a patrolman at the time of the shooting, but was not one of the officers who responded to the Bishop home. He based his account on an officer who was at the scene.
At his home in Braintree today, Polio, who is retired, disputed Frazier’s version.
‘‘That’s a joke. That’s got to be a joke. If anybody knows history, I never covered anything up,’’ he said. He said he thought that the Bishop family’s explanation of an accident was murky and that he wanted the district attorney to hold an inquiry.
But just one day after the shooting, Polio told the Globe, ‘‘every indication at this point in time leads us to believe it was an accidental shooting.’’
The district attorney at the time, current US Representative William D. Delahunt, is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.
Frazier said that the Bishop case file was missing from the records today and that he was told by an officer that it had been missing since at least 1988.
Seth Bishop was pronounced dead at a Quincy hospital 46 minutes after the shooting, from a gunshot wound to the abdomen, according to the Globe accounts.
The teen was an accomplished violinist who played with the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra. He won third place at a statewide science fair and was an aspiring electrical engineer and Northeastern University freshman at the time of his death.
In Friday's shooting, Bishop, 42, a Harvard-educated neurobiologist, allegedly shot and killed three of her colleagues and wounded three others in an apparent tenure dispute at the Huntsville campus, the Associated Press reports.
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